We are all Born Atheists: I Just Stayed that Way Part ONE
My Childhood and Religion
Everybody is born as an atheist and, without submersion into religion as a child, we would most likely maintain that position… more often than not, however, this is not the case. My parents were not religious people… They may have abused substances religiously- but church was probably the last thing on their minds. When I was two years old, my parents divorced and began their separate lives pursuing drugs to feed their addictions. Clearly, they felt that they were unfit to properly care for their child (though they were always a large part of my life and, for the most part, acted in accordance with standard human morals and decency)- my grandmother thankfully volunteered to care for me until my mother or father could afford (financially and emotionally) to raise me. She never mistreated me or abused me, but she was the first person in my life to introduce me to religion and the authority of the church.
When I was a bit older- maybe six years old- I went to a Christian church at the discretion of my grandparents; this was my first real experience with a religious institution. The church, located in a small town in Northern California, considered itself “non-denominational” and usually consisted of a pastor reciting well-chosen biblical passages for about an hour. Needless to say, I was not moved by the experience- and didn’t take the idea of church seriously. My grandmother was a traditional, god-fearing, Christian woman- it wasn’t until much later that I would realize the closed-mindedness that this mindset bred in her and others. She saw that I was not excited about attending church on a regular basis and, at around age eight, she mandated that I attend a weekly children’s class at the same church in an attempt to force my involvement within the “House of God.” I recall my first day at this Sunday School very well; I remember that my younger step-sister was there with me in a classroom-like setting learning about Christ and his message. I also remember the tactics utilized by the ‘teachers’ in order to keep the attention of the children, including gifts of candy and other prizes for active participation each Sunday. I’m sure that the intentions of these people were positive but, in hindsight, I cannot help but see the gifts as bribery in exchange for willing indoctrination of a child. After we earned a certain amount of “Bible Bucks” (awarded for correctly answering trivia questions and participating in songs) – we could cash in our vouchers for prizes like toys or a ten-minute break to play on the trampoline behind the church.
The bus ride to and from Sunday School was the most exciting part of the event for me and my step-sister; we would play games, sing songs, and we were always given a large amount of sugary sweets. My point in telling you this is not to glorify the practice of forcing a religion on a child, but instead to illuminate the ways in which this act is carried out within the Christian community and other religious traditions. My step-sister was always delighted to attend church in order to receive candy and prizes… it didn’t take long for this connection to become a subconscious one, which created an extremely positive outlook of church and religion in her eyes… Out of this grew a young girl who began to take their church “schooling” home and take it very seriously. For one reason or another, I did not have this issue- I simply didn’t take church or religion seriously, I remember thinking of it more as a pastime or a game to occupy my time on Sunday mornings, acknowledging that the miracles portrayed in the Biblical Texts could not have possibly occurred. I attended this class for around three years, which was the remainder of my time living with my grandparents. At age eleven, my father took me to live with him and his family in an apartment he rented in a more… urban… part of the city. My siblings remained believers, and went to church on holidays with my grandparents- but my father didn’t- and I never felt the urge to, either.